As a personal chef and cooking instructor, Gilda Mulero celebrates cuisine. She also works with clients who have food-related issues, from the eating disorder of a young girl to the confusion of new diabetics and cancer sufferers. Mulero meditates to stay grounded in other people's kitchens, which can sometimes appear more like storage units than centers of nourishment.
The private-yoga teacher lives in Queens, which she calls, “the foodie borough with two airports and the ethnic food your abuela would make.” With wit and patience, Mulero motivates busy urbanites when she's not teaching privates or working at a volunteer food kitchen, including YogaCity NYC’s Ann Votaw.
Ann Votaw: How do you work as a personal chef?
Gilda Mulero: The point of having a chef come to your home is to make food you love rather than food you don’t like. If you are allergic to something, you won’t see it in your home.
Some clients want me to make three weeks of food to freeze, but I don’t work that way. I believe in fresh meals. I can make three to four days’ worth. Beyond that, the integrity of the food suffers.
AV: What are some examples of your clients’ needs?
GM: I cooked for a couple who were cancer survivors, and they had a three-year old boy. For them, it was very important to have fresh, farm-to-table cuisine. I would cook three proteins, three sides, some pasta, and fruit. The little boy liked pureed butternut squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, chicken tenders, and mini muffins. With kids, it’s all about things they can hold in their hand that are available. The nannies like good food too. Don’t even get me started on nannies. They love me.
AV: How so?
GM: I teach nannies and housekeepers throughout New York who speak Spanish. Many cook from their own cultures, which involves deep frying. I teach them how to cook healthier. I also translate recipes for them because I am fluent in Spanish.
These women are amazing. They come to this country and leave their own children behind. They raise other people’s children with big hearts. I used to think nannies just cleaned up after the kids, but those women truly love the kids in their care.
AV: Has your work influenced your own diet?
GM: I cut out dairy. It’s inflammatory. I worked with a gentleman who had gout, and he wanted to manage his condition with food. I learned we should all be eating an anti-inflammatory diet: no sugar, gluten, or dairy.
AV: How about people with eating disorders?
GM: I have gotten referrals through Columbia Center for Eating Disorders. I worked with an 11-year-old girl who had anorexia. I would go into her home twice a week for four hours at a time. Prior to preparing the food, I would spend an hour or so menu- planning with her mom to meet the pediatrician’s recommended calories a day.
AV: What did you tell the family?
GM: We have to remember that family members need help, too. I reassured them that their child would get better with time. Imagine having an 11-year-old, which is already tough, but even more patience is necessary for a child with an illness. The conversations with the parents always come from my grounding as a yogi. I stay in the moment with a deep sense of compassion.
AV: What’s your specialty?
GM: My specialty is teaching cooking to beginners. I do a ton of pantry and kitchen makeovers. I like to have a sense of humor in the kitchen. I tell my students all the time the kitchen is not the E.R. I say, “If you mess up, you’ll do better next time.” Cooking healthy can be simple. It is a matter of using better ingredients. Instead of corn oil, olive oil. Instead of rice, quinoa.
AV: What’s the first lesson?
GM: The most important skill in the kitchen is knife skills. I like the Shun Santoku because it keeps a sharp edge and is a super versatile, all-purpose knife. When you know how to use a knife, you save time and money. We start by cutting carrots and zucchinis. We saute the vegetables and add quinoa to make a pilaf. Then we do a taste test with seasoning. When you know how to manipulate your vegetables and season your food, you have the two most important skills to cook anything. I teach about seasoning with less salt. There’s a secret.
AV: What is the secret to making things tasty using less salt?
GM: Acid. I had a teacher in culinary school who said, “If in doubt, drop acid.” We would all laugh, but it’s true. Let me give you a test. If I were to make a butternut squash soup, what would you add instead of salt?
AV: How about a tomato?
GM: A tomato is too acidic. The correct answer is an orange or apple cider vinegar. The butternut squash is already sweet. You must ask yourself, “What is it I’m trying to elevate in this recipe?”
AV: You also love baking. Do you bake for your family?
GM: My family lives in Argentina. When I go down there, they don’t let me cook. I try to wash a dish, and they won’t let me. They want me to relax and drink Malbec. They really celebrate food. They cook so well. In the U.S., we have an abundance of food, but, every week we learn about a new diet—no carbs, no protein—but moderation is the key. Food is a blessing and should be treated as such.